Archive for the ‘Strawberry’ Category

Thoughts on the blog

Every once in a while I get to contemplating the state of my blog — why I do this, is it worth it, should I change something…  should I change everything? I’ve been blogging for a pretty damn long time (since the summer of 2007!), and yet I don’t feel that “well-established”. I know that’s because I don’t post regularly and I also don’t go to great lengths to gain readers. After almost four years this blog still feels like something I do just for myself, and most days, I’m really OK with that. But the fact that this blog is my own little project is also the reason I struggle with the idea of changing it. I’ve thought about starting a whole new blog with a slightly different focus and new structure. A clean slate, plus I could get rid of all those awkward old posts I’m embarrassed about. But at the same time, those posts have documented parts of my life since I started living in Estonia three and half years ago, and I absolutely don’t want to lose them! (This may be a stupid question, but is there a way to un-publish posts, but still preserve them in some kind of archive?). I think starting anew would make me feel lost, rather than more confident.

Then there’s the name of my blog. I know having a foreign word in the name is somewhat impractical, and people change the names of their blogs all the time — it’s no big deal. But it took me so long to think of this one in the first place, and I’m indecisive, so picking a new name that I don’t think is lame would take approximately forever. If I decide that a new name is needed to feel more confident in my blogging space, I’ll do it, but until then my good old Strawberry/Maasikas is staying.

One blogging friend recently started a new blog, and two other friends recently started blogs as well. That’s part of the reason I’ve had all this blog stuff on my mind. But even before that, I thought about change. With your permission, dear readers, I think I’d like to expand the focus of my blog just a tiny bit past food and travel. Without becoming a fitness blog, I want to write more about running and life in general. I’m never going to write about everything — I’ve realized that I’m a private person and the thought of sharing too much of my life on a blog REALLY freaks me out — but I may start to share a little bit more. And perhaps the natural progression of things will lead to a name change. We’ll have to see. If anybody reading is a blogger who changed the name of their blog: was changing the name a hard decision to make? Did you feel better about your blog after you did it?

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My, I’ve been a lazy blogger lately. My apologies! I have some catching up to do. Last weekend J and I took an overnight cruise to Stockholm, spent several hours in the city on Saturday, then took the ferry back to Tallinn on Saturday night. It was a nice mini-vacation and of course there was some fun food involved, which I’ll get to later!

We didn’t really do much for Valentine’s Day, since our trip over the weekend was already pretty indulgent. However, my honey did make me a sweet and healthy Valentine’s dessert with the newest gadget to join our kitchen– a blender! We’ve had it for a little over a week and J is totally on a smoothie kick, so on the 14th he made a delicious thick smoothie with kiwi, banana, frozen strawberries, milk, and a touch of honey.

Perfect color for Valentine’s Day, right? I topped mine with a little Nutella granola for some crunch and sweetness (and chocolate, which is practically a necessity on Valentine’s Day). Perfect! For now the blender will continue to churn out diet-friendly concoctions, but as soon as warmer weather hits you can expect to see some yummy frozen cocktail experiments!

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Strawberry Deli

My fiance’s mother is well aware of my strawberry obsession and bought me these awesome chocolate-covered freeze-dried strawberries on the boat from Helsinki to Tallinn when they came for Christmas. Both bags have of course been consumed, so here comes a review!

There were two different kinds, milk chocolate and yogurt. The product is made in the Netherlands and in the top right-hand corner of the front of the package it says “Green-All-Natural”, which sort of looks more like a brand name than a claim (but a glance at the ingredients reveals that they are indeed all natural).

I was surprised by how big they were! Each one is a whole freeze-dried strawberry with a healthy coating of chocolate or yogurt. The milk chocolate was very, very sweet. It was tempered somewhat by the natural tartness of the crispy, light-as-air strawberry in the center, but overall the sugar was still too much. They actually made my teeth hurt. In a few of them I came across strawberries that weren’t completely dried and retained some chewiness (they still tasted fine).

The yogurt coating was also quite sweet, but ultimately I found it less overwhelming than the milk chocolate. The berry and coating were somehow in better harmony (of course– berries and cream are a natural combination!). Their size, sweetness and the resealable bag mean that even the small 100 g bag could last a while, as it only takes one or two of these unique “candies” to satisfy a sweets craving.

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Christmas has begun

J’s family arrived in Tallinn on Tuesday, so for us Christmas pretty much started then (even though I still had to work Wednesday and Thursday this week).  J’s mother had bought me a little gift on the ferry they took from Helsinki to Tallinn:

They’re freeze-dried strawberries covered in yogurt and chocolate. I didn’t even know such a thing existed, but I think they’re going to be amazing! I love that she saw the strawberries and thought of me :-). Later on that same evening she asked me where my whole strawberry obsession came from (she knows about the blog). I blushed a little, as I do when I’m put on the spot, and said I don’t really know. She asked if it’s a long-running thing and I said yes, that one of my grandfathers (who passed when I was very young) had called me “Marika Maasikas” and maybe it started from that. I’m still shy when talking about the blog, but at the same time it’s awesome that my future mother-in-law (feels so funny to type that!) knows about my blog, understands why I take lots of pictures of food, and tries to understand why I like the things I like. Even though we can’t converse on the level that I would like to (my spoken Finnish is very elementary), I feel that she “gets” me. She’s always asking me questions about myself, not just related to the blog or to food (although she knows that asking me any question about food will get me talking, regardless of my awkward Finnish!), but about work, family, life in general. I can safely say that the mothers of some of my ex-boyfriends (with whom I was able to speak easily, in English) did not ask me as much about myself as J’s mother does. And that’s nice, those questions that let you know that somebody is interested and truly wants to know more about you. While it can get frustrating not being able to talk and express myself in the exact way I’d like to, sensing that J’s mother knows who I am (and likes me!) in spite of that feels really great.

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Fall in

I’m totally a summer girl, so in general the changing of the seasons gets me a little down. However, I’ve actually been enjoying the fall this past week or so. I’m no longer complaining about how it’s still so much warmer in America and I wish we were still there, or whining about how I had to switch out my summer wardrobe for my winter gear. We’ve been having some absolutely beautiful fall days– the leaves have hit their brightest hues and the trees are still thick with them, though there are plenty crunching underfoot as well. The days have been crisp but sunny with fluffy white clouds.

Sometimes the clouds in Estonia are just unreal.

I take walks and all the concerns I have before stepping outside (will I need gloves? Should I get a thicker scarf?) disappear, and I just enjoy being outside, watching the colors, the sky and the people. It’s not yet too cold– it’s just right. It’s nice to like where I am– that’s how it should be, no? (I may not like it so much anymore when November, month of wind, rain and darkness rolls around. But for now I’ll live in the moment).

As usual when the weather grow cooler, I’ve started drinking more tea. This year I have an extra incentive to make myself a cuppa– the cutest tea infuser in the entire world, which my mother bought for me back in June.

I love this thing so much.

It’s made of soft, flexible silicon, easy to use and wash, and did I mention super-cute? It’ll definitely make easing into the cold winter months a bit less traumatizing.

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Almost done with my vacation posts, I swear! This post is one I’ve been looking forward to writing and it includes the two BEST desserts I had while in the USA, both homemade. Keep reading to find out what they were! 🙂

Just a few days after returning from Vegas to Maryland, we hosted a joint birthday party for me and J at my parents’ house. My parents have a wonderful house for entertaining, plus it was an excuse to get all our friends together one more time. We sent out a quick Facebook invitation, my parents helped us stock the fridge (thank you!), and there you have it– a party!

All set up and ready to go

My mother and I threw together some simple appetizers– I wrapped pieces of melon in prosciutto and cut up some veggies for dipping.

My mother made her famous seven-layer dip (hey, remember when I made this from scratch in Estonia?).

Later on the appetizers were joined by crackers, goat cheese, and some amazingly delicious Trader Joe’s hummus. I love party food! My dad was in charge of beer, and we had a good selection– my dad doesn’t buy cheap beer. 🙂

Oh, I should also mention that it was a hat party and all guests were required to wear some kind of head covering. People showed up with wigs, helmets and bandanas, which were also switched around throughout the night. It was a fun “theme” because it’s easy and people can have a lot of fun with it or keep it simple, whatever they like. I wore a crown of flowers– it made me feel like a birthday girl without being too princessy. Birthday boy J rocked an always-classy beer hat.

Dinner was burgers from the grill accompanied by various salads (including a black bean salad I made– yum). If I’m being completely honest with you, I can hardly even remember eating my burger that night. I know I had one– a cheeseburger with tomato slices and a ton of ketchup– but I was so engaged in conversation with my friends that the burger just seemed to disappear on its own. I’m sure it was good, though.

Finally, the desserts. My friend Siret told me she’d make cupcakes (we made cupcakes together in London last November!). She’s a cupcake queen. I expected her to arrive at the party punctually since she lives very close to my parents, but almost an hour after the slated start time I received a text message from her: “Am running late, cupcakes got the best of me”. Uh-oh. I told her not to stress and to get there when she could. When she finally arrived, I took one look at the cupcakes and realized why she’d been late:

Look at this cupcake. The latticework! The hand-formed marzipan strawberries, made of marzipan she had tinted herself! I think there were 24 of these cupcakes, with three strawberries each… absolutely incredible. I still can’t believe she did all that for our party. Not to mention she also made a batch of chocolate gluten-free cupcakes for our guests and vegan chocolate chip cookies as a birthday present for me. No wonder she was late!  And as for the taste, I tried both kinds of cupcakes and they were outstanding. I actually really liked the chewiness of the gluten-free cupcakes, and the strawberry-decorated cupcakes were so moist with the perfect amount of icing. And the decorations were great because I love marzipan and of course I love strawberries!

The production of the other outstanding dessert had started earlier that day in my parents’ kitchen. My sister had decided to make a Smith Island cake, which is the official dessert of the great state of Maryland :-). The cake consists of around ten thin cake layers alternating with layers of chocolate icing, and it was my sister’s first attempt at creating one herself. While she tended to the delicate layers of cake baking in the oven, she recruited me to help make the icing. I chopped chocolate and then kept an eye on the chocolate concoction as it cooked on the stove for 10-15 minutes. Once all the components had cooled, she gently began layering them together.

I didn’t see the end of the process because guests began to arrive, but when it was time for birthday cake, I was able to see the finished product.

Not only was it impressive to look at, it tasted amazing. I expected the layers to be sort of dry like sponge cake, and I think on their own they might be, but compressed together, absorbing the moisture from the delicious, slightly firm chocolate icing, they become dense, buttery, and delicious. I think it’s the perfect cake because the icing to cake ratio is so very high. I ate the last piece of this cake two or three days after the party, and it was still completely moist. Honestly, it’s a super-cake. (Dear sister, if you read this: would you put a link to the recipe in the comments?)

To sum up, it was a fun party with great food, but of course the most amazing part was being with friends. We talked, we laughed, we watched old home movies my parents had put on DVD (which is the best idea ever, by the way). We sang around a campfire and visited a nearby construction site in the dark, which may or may not have led to a photo shoot on a giant truck thing.

Everything about that night made me happy. Friends, you all are the best, and hands-down the hardest thing about living in Estonia is that I hardly ever get to see you.

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Our second day in Vegas fell on August 17– my birthday! I woke up to some birthday text messages and a phone call from my lovely mother. I had no idea that J had called room service and ordered a birthday surprise for me– strawberries and whipped cream along with freshly squeezed orange juice and a small bottle of champagne for making mimosas!

The whipped cream was out of this world. I ate almost all the strawberries (J had some too), and when they were gone I may or may not have had a few spoonfuls of straight-up whipped cream. There was enough juice to make two mimosas, so I shared that with J too. Perfect birthday breakfast… thank you so much honey!

Happy birthday to me! (And yes, my bikini has strawberries on it. I am a little obsessed.)

Following breakfast we spent a little time relaxing in the hotel pool before getting ready to hit the Strip.

We knew we wanted to go to a buffet in Vegas, and decided to opt for a lunch buffet because they’re much cheaper than dinner buffets. After weighing the cost and convenience of a few different buffets, we ended up at the Paradise Garden Buffet in our own hotel, the Flamingo (we got a discount, so the total cost, including the tip we left, was about $11 per person). Let the gluttony begin!

Crab legs, sushi, shrimp, and some seafood salads

I fully recognize how unnatural it is to eat seafood in the middle of the desert. But it’s just such a Vegas thing– buffets always feature stuff like crab, shrimp and lobster– and I love seafood, so how could I resist? The cold foods were definitely my favorite– I loved the seaweed salad with sesame seeds and mini shrimp, and of course I had plenty of the bigger shrimp with cocktail sauce.

More sushi, more shrimp, and salmon with cream cheese and capers

I tried some of the hot foods too, but honestly nothing struck me as all that good except for this one creamy pasta dish (the pasta was overcooked, but the sauce was yummy). Then it was time to get started on dessert.

I’ve heard that buffet desserts usually aren’t stellar, and I have to agree. Everything looked delicious, but nothing was amazing. I only had one bite of the mini cannoli, and I ate the creamy chocolate part of the cake but not the base. It’s hard to go wrong with chocolate-covered strawberries, but since I’d already had a whole bowl of lovely strawberries that day, they didn’t seem as special. I ended up going back for one more mini cake (which was OK) plus a cookie and banana, both of which I saved for later. Overall I feel that we got our money’s worth from the buffet.

Following a brief break in our room to digest, we headed out to the casinos. After visiting Bellagio and Planet Hollywood, we stepped outside and were greeted with an absolutely beautiful desert sunset.

We visited casino after casino, also stepping into a few stores. I saw this sign at the M&M’s store and thought it was amusing.

Eventually we headed to a bar J had read about that offers Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for 5 cents on Tuesday nights. Yes, five cents. When we arrived there, we were SO disappointed to discover that the offer ended at 11 pm (in the info J had printed out, it said midnight!). So no five-cent beers for us. Sad! Nothing left to do but go to another casino and get a drink for free. After a very full night we eventually did get tired and hungry, so we headed back to our room for snacks and sleep.

Day 3 in Vegas started off with us redeeming our vouchers for hot dogs at the Irish casino near our hotel. Hot dogs for breakfast… sure, why not?

One of our goals for the day was to see as many free shows and happenings as possible (almost every hotel/casino has one). J’s goal for the day was to get me one of these things:

Those would be ridiculously large cocktail cups that come filled with pre-mixed frozen drinks, which you are allowed to drink out in public. Ah, Vegas– land of excess.

We met our goal for the day and saw free spectacles at Treasure Island, Caesar’s Palace, Mirage, and the Bellagio. And I have to say that the famous dancing fountains outside the Bellagio are absolutely breathtaking. While many of the other shows feel cheap and go for simple entertainment value, the fountains are somehow so classy, not to mention genuinely impressive. I’m rather sorry we only saw three different performances.

Our non-free activity for the night (well, other than gambling) was going to the top of the Paris casino’s faux Eiffel Tower to get a bird’s-eye view of the Strip.

It was a fun last day, but we were definitely starting to feel a bit burned out. Vegas is exhausting! Food-wise the last day was pretty boring, as I mainly survived on foot-long subs (for only $5) from the Subway near our hotel. I got one in the afternoon and another the next morning before we caught our shuttle to the airport. We flew back to Maryland ready for one more week of fun before our vacation had to come to an end!

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